Airstream: Need 150 new employees by early 2017

RV sales are growing, the industry says. And Elkhart, Ind.-based Thor Industries — which makes Airstream trailers in Shelby County’s Jackson Center — is especially enjoying the upswing.

Jeff Tryka, Thor’s director of corporate development and investor relations, said demand for RVs is strong enough to drive an expansion from two to three production lines at company’s Airstream segment.

It’s Airstream’s first expansion since Thor bought the business in 1980, he said. “It’s a fairly sizeable increase,” Tryka said.

Bob Wheeler, Airstream president, said “organic market demand” is strong. The backlog for products has been 19 to 20 weeks for about eight months now.

“It’s a good problem to have,” he said.

Airstream needs 50 new workers by mid-2016 to support further production, Wheeler said. And for new products to be introduced next year, another 100 new employees will be needed by late 2016 and early 2017, he said.

Airstream has about 600 employees today.

The company announced this week that it’s seeing a record start to its fiscal year. Sales from continuing operations for the first quarter were $1.03 billion, up 12 percent in the first quarter last year, as sales of towable and motorized recreational vehicles saw combined growth of 8 percent, the company said Monday.

At Thor Industries, sales and backlogs both top $1 billion, Bob Martin, Thor president and chief executive, said.

Net income from continuing operations for the first quarter was $50.7 million, up 29 percent from $39.2 million in last year’s first quarter, the company said.

The boost is happening nationwide. Overall RV shipments from manufacturers to dealers — a measure of consumer demand — are expected to increase 3.5 percent to 369,100 units in 2015, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association said Tuesday in an industry trade show in Louisville.

Shipments are up for all kinds of RVs, from less-expensive towable ones to standalone motor homes, the Associated Press reported.

“We’ve come all the way back from the recession low to recover all that ground,” Kevin Broom, a spokesman for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, told the AP.

An improved economy, access to credit and pent-up consumer demand have helped fuel the industry’s comeback, the industry said. The plunge in fuel prices has reinforced its upbeat forecast that more Americans will want to hit the open road in the traveling homes.

“I really don’t see an end in sight,” said Derald Bontrager, president and CEO of RV manufacturer Jayco Inc. “The demographics are all in our favor.”

In early 2013, Thor — which operates Airstream, Bison coach and other RV entities — moved its headquarters from Jackson Center to downtown Elkhart. Jackson Center is about 56 miles north of Dayton.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.